Firefighters find ‘no rhyme or reason’ for brush fire near Sullivan soccer park

ST. GEORGE — Multiple fire agencies responded to a brush fire south of Industrial Road in Washington City Thursday evening. Due to circumstances surrounding the fire, authorities say it may have been human-caused.

At the scene of a fire between Industrial Road and the Virgin River in Washington City, Utah, May 14, 2020 | Submitted photo, St. George News

The fire, which was estimated to have grown to 5 acres before being knocked down by firefighters, started sometime before 7:30 p.m. when multiple 911 calls came in from people in the area seeing a large plume of smoke reaching skyward.

“We could tell it was a pretty active fire from miles away,” Washington City Fire Captain Julio Reyes said. He and other firefighters also saw the heavy smoke from their fire station located on Buena Vista Boulevard.

Due to the possibility of it being a large fire, Washington City called in additional fire units from across the city, as well as mutual aid from the Hurricane Valley Fire District and St. George Fire Department. Brush fire crews from the Utah Division of Forest, Fire and State Lands also arrived at the scene. The state fire crews had just finished helping put out another brush fire before aiding Washington City, Reyes said.

“Those guys are really well trained,” Reyes said of the state fire crews who helped cut down and clear “higher or threatening fuels” that could have spread the fire if left alone.

The area in red marks the general location of the fire between Industrial Road and the Virgin River in Washington City, Utah, May 14, 2020 | Map courtesy of Google Maps, St. George News

The fire burned in a field along Industrial Road located southwest of the Sullivan Virgin River Soccer Park. Sandwiched between the road and the Virgin River, the field is covered in grass as well as thick patch of trees that resembles a miniature forest. This spot is used for private events from time to time, such as a photo shoot for adoptable dogs held in May 2019.

While the area is thick with fire fuels, Reyes said there’s no place within the field that could have started the fire. No gas or electrical lines or other utilities pass through the area that could have otherwise sparked a fire, he said.

“There’s no rhyme or reason why a fire started there. There’s no (ignition) source,” Reyes said, adding there was no agricultural burning taking place there either. “We’re still trying to figure out what caused this to happen.”

Smoke from the fire between Industrial Road and the Virgin River in Washington City, Utah, May 14, 2020 | Photo courtesy of Brittney Chubbuck, St. George News

While it is possible the fire could be human-caused, the incident remains under investigation, Reyes said.

The majority of the fire appeared to be out by 9 p.m., though fire crews stayed at the scene into the early morning mopping up lingering hot spots. Reyes’ own crew was there until 7 a.m. Friday when the fire crew shift change occurred.

Though a charred line of blackened earth and brush can been seen through the trees from the roadside showing where the fire occurred, Reyes said firefighters were able to keep it largely contained, especially when considering how fire-fuel heavy the area is.

“I think it’s very impressive with how little of a spread it had,” he said.

Fire crews from the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands and others at the scene of a fire between Industrial Road and the Virgin River in Washington City, Utah, May 14, 2020 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

However, an issue that initially hampered the firefighters’ response was a multitude of cars pulled over on Industrial Road and the drivers slowly driving by to catch a glimpse of the blaze. Unable to get close enough to the fire with their equipment otherwise, the Fire Department asked Washington City Police for aid in blocking the road and diverting traffic at Washington Fields Drive and 100 East.

“It’s tempting when we see big smoke and activity like that to go see what’s going on,” Reyes said. “It was really challenging for us to arriving on scene because that road was completely packed.”

The fire by Industrial Road Thursday night is one of many fire agencies across the region have responded to within the last week. A number of these brush fires have been the result of controlled agriculture burns that subsequently got out of hand and required firefighters to respond.

The permitted fire season in the county comes to an end Sunday.

Due to worries over another potentially challenging and dangerous fire season, fire managers are asking the public to be mindful of recreational and other activities that could unintentionally spark a brush fire.

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Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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